Lately I have been more active in the IBM DeveloperWorks forums, as well as on StackOverflow, trying to help people with development problems. As I am just myself starting with Xpages, I been staying in the forums for "classic" Notes development.
I have noticed a trend, based on the postings. It seems like there is a substantial number of new developers who are not very familiar with Notes/Domino development. They sometimes think Domino works like a relational database.
There are then several who are posting about very simple things, that can easily be found in the online help, or by looking at the properties for an element. Like how to extend the last column in a view to use all available space.
There was even one user asking about how to duplicate a specific @Formula in Lotusscript, when the help file got a cross reference to the class and method to use…
There are others who does not seem to even understand the basics, either when it comes to programming in general or specifically of Notes/Domino.
Some of them don't understand data types. They declare a variable as integer, then make a calculation that results in a value of say 3.5, and is then wondering why the result is 4.
Others don't understand the difference between strings and variables, they are surprised when @SetField("myField"; "myField + 1") does not give them the expected result (the value in the field ‘myField’ increased by one).
On StackOverflow it is possible to see what other areas the user posted in. Some of the users seems to have a background in Java, SQL, .NET or other platforms. My guess is that they been thrown into a Notes projekt after their company took on a new development project, with the hope that they could learn it quickly. I think this could be dangerous, from some of the code I have seen, the lack of experience and understanding of the Notes/Domino platform will cause sub-standard or slow code, which of course will make executives think that Notes is a bad development platform. After all, if the expensive consulting company (or the off-shore based development house with all developers being at least Ph.D.) can't write fast and good code, the platform must be at fault, right?
Another thing I noticed over the last year or so is that in the Notes-related groups on LinkedIn, there has been a number of requests for the answers to the IBM certification tests. They have originated from both some big consulting companies and from within IBM. None of them were from the US (or Europe, if I remember correctly), but from countries more traditionally associated with outsourced or "off-shore" development. My guess is that the companies want their developers to be certified on paper, as they can either charge higher rates, or pass themselves off as being “experts” on the platform.
A number of the questions in the DeveloperWorks forums were posted under names that often are associated with the same countries/regions.
What I think we are seeing is the result of American and (in some part) European companies using cheaper off-shore development companies in order to save money. What they don't think of is that, unless the developers has a good knowledge of the product, that a local developer with many years of experience will create the same or better result in a much shorter time. So even at a higher hourly rate, the end result will be less expensive as well as better.
I want to make it clear that I don't think all developers in the countries typically associated with off-shoring (India, China, Russia, the Baltic states, Brazil, etc) are bad programmers. I know very competent developers from several of those countries, and I know some not-so-good developers in Europe and North America.
What I am afraid of is that off-shore development companies takes on Notes-projects, expecting (or hoping) their staff will quickly learn the product/platform and quickly develop the requested solution. In the process they are making Notes look bad as they don't understand the platform.
At the same time, the companies that is purchasing the solution are just looking at the hourly rate, and perhaps an initial estimate of how quick and inexpensive (due to low hourly rates) the project is promised to be completed. In the long run, I fear that Notes/Domino as a platform will suffer because of this.
The project management triangle is still true:
You are given the options of Fast, Good and Cheap, and told to pick any two. Here Fast refers to the time required to deliver the product, Good is the quality of the final product, and Cheap refers to the total cost of designing and building the product. This triangle reflects the fact that the three properties of a project are interrelated, and it is not possible to optimize all three – one will always suffer. In other words you have three options:
Design something quickly and to a high standard, but then it will not be cheap.
Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality.
Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a long time.
Of course, an experienced Notes/Domino developer can make the rule somewhat invalid, but it requires extensive experience. 🙂
I don’t have a good solution. Perhaps companies thinking about outsourcing development need to be more diligent at selecting developers, requesting details about their previous experience, etc. Perhaps they need to ask more questions, including how many years of Notes/Domino experience the developers have. Personally, I would not suggest hiring a consulting company who haven’t had a presence at Lotusphere or at least had some of their developers speak there or at any of the LUG-conferences around the world. Many of the best Notes developers also got blogs where they post code and/or information, I would require a link to some blogs as well, so I could judge the quality of their code.